Ottawa’s justice reforms will change how juries are selected, bail
is set and trials are held
OTTAWA—The Liberal government has proposed sweeping reforms to Canada’s legal
system to change the ways juries are selected, to streamline bail conditions,
and to speed up trials.
Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said the bill aims “to bring about
a wide-reaching cultural shift in the criminal justice system and how it is
administered throughout the country.”
Colten Boushie, 22, is shown in an undated handout photo. Boushie’s shooting
death triggered an outcry that Canada’s justice system was unfair to Indigenous
peoples. (HO / THE
Tabled Thursday in the House of Commons, Bill C-75 would amend the criminal
code, the youth justice act and other laws. A key part the 200-page package
addresses concerns that the legal system is stacked against Indigenous
people. It proposes to abolish what are known as peremptory challenges,
which allow Crown and defence lawyers to dismiss a certain number of
potential jurors without having to give a reason for their objection.
The move comes after a reportedly all-white
jury acquitted a Saskatchwan farmer of murder in the fatal shooting of
Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Indigenous man. The high-profile acquittal of
Gerald Stanley prompted protests across the country, and an emotional and
highly publicized trek to Ottawa by members of the Boushie family, who
pleaded for change.
“I can understand the desire to respond to the Stanley case, and to the
occasional abuse of (peremptory challenges), but they are not getting at the
problem of non-representative juries,” said lawyer Frank Addario, a former
president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association.
“The criminal code could have been amended to require representative juries,
which would create an obligation on the part of the provinces to create
representative jury panels...This was a good opportunity to right that
Wilson-Raybould said systemic racist attitudes across the justice system are
“a challenge that we face” but said the bill “is a start” towards enacting
changes that fall within federal jurisdiction.
“This is a call to action for all actors in the justice system,” she said.
In response to a Supreme
Court of Canada ruling that slammed a “culture of complacency” in the
legal community, the bill takes square aim at reducing criminal trial delays
by proposing new limits on preliminary inquiries. It would restrict the
pretrial hearings to cases where the offence carries a possible life
sentence, such as murder. There are some 9,100 preliminary inquiries held
each year. Thursday’s change would reduce that by 87 per cent, Wilson-Raybould
The legislation would also reclassify many offences. All indictable crimes
with maximum sentences of 10 years or less — 136 in all, ranging from theft
over $5,000 to prison break offences — could be prosecuted as summary
offences, a more streamlined process.